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State Patrol: distracted driver killed 'Tamale Lady'

8:02 AM, Jan 8, 2012   |    comments
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COMMERCE CITY - With a broken back and cane, a Thornton man talks to us from his front door about the crash investigators say he caused that killed a mother of five.

Amy Candalarie was known as the Tamale Lady in Adams and Weld counties for her great tasting Mexican food.

She died after her car, which was nearly stopped because of traffic, was totally crushed on I-76 in Commerce City.

Investigators say the driver that hit Candalarie's car never stopped and later admitted to them he was distracted by his cell phone.

"This is really hard ya know. She had a good heart and it was always in the right place," Jeff Reyna, the oldest of five sons Amy Candelarie raised as a single mother, said.

Amy was driving along westbound I-76 around 10:30 in the morning on December 12.

"I actually talked to her the morning she passed, and I answered the phone and she's like 'good morning son,'" Jeff said.

She was working a part-time job so she could pick up some extra money to buy Christmas gifts for her nine grandchildren.

Traffic came to a snarl at I-76 and Dahlia because of construction.

The accident report says Amy was crawling just 5 miles per hour behind a semi when the driver of a van, 34 year-old Jason Sheffield, smashed into the back of Amy's Honda Accord going 60 miles per hour.

Sheffield was distracted by his cell phone, according to the report.

That's what Reyna says a trooper told him right after the crash.

"All he said is that the guy was on the phone and he was looking at a number or something," Jeff said.

What further upsets Amy's family is at the crash scene, no tire marks were found. Amy's family says that's further proof that the driver just wasn't paying attention to the road.

"I don't understand how come he didn't step on the brakes. That's what gets me the most," Jeff said.

The State Patrol is still waiting on toxicology reports, but spokesman Trooper Nate Reid says Sheffield will be charged with careless driving at the very least, and could be charged with vehicular homicide if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The trooper on the report says he suspected drugs to be involved.

Sheffield hasn't been arrested yet, so we stopped by his Thornton home to see what he had to say about the pending charges.

He hobbled to the door with the help of his wife, who said his back is broken.

Sheffield was asked if he was on his cell phone before the crash.

"I can't say anything, man," Sheffield said.

Sheffield said no to the drugs accusations, but when asked repeatedly about whether he was on the phone he said his lawyer asked him not to talk about the case.

He did offer this apology to Amy's family.

"I want to let the family know that I'm extremely sorry for their loss. I think about her every day, and I've never met the woman, it's not right," Sheffield said.

Jeff says apologies won't bring back his mom, the grandmother of nine, the Tamale Lady as she was known by so many.

"I just hope he has some sort of sense knowing that he killed an innocent woman by being on the phone and he could have tried to prevent it or even stepped on the brakes," Jeff said.

The van Sheffield was driving was owned by a company called Cherry Hills Home Improvement.

We called them to see whether Sheffield is still working for the company, but they have not returned our calls.

Amy re-married, and her husband was also in the car with her that day.

He was seriously injured and suffered from internal bleeding.

He is still recovering from the crash.

If you would like to take the 9NEWS Great Hang Up pledge to help stop distracted driving, download the pledge form.

If you have a story about distracted driving you would like to share with us, or if your company or office has decided to sign the pledge as a team, email 9NEWS Anchor/Reporter Eric Kahnert at eric.kahnert@9news.com.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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